When is Meniscus Tear Surgery Needed?
Patients with a meniscus tear commonly report catching, popping and pain in the knee. These symptoms are more noticeable when rotating on the knee or bending down. The knee pain is usually located on the inside (medial meniscus tear) or outside (lateral meniscus tear). The knee pain from a meniscus tear may decrease by simply changing the position of the knee. Because the pain and catching comes and goes without warning, most patients do not trust the knee. These symptoms are more frequent when worse when doing a cutting and pivoting sport such as skiing or soccer.
Common functional or mechanical symptoms, which affect normal movement of the knee, may include:
- Clicking and popping sound in the knee joint with associated pain
- Sudden inability to straighten the knee (locking sensation)
- Decreased range of motion when bending the knee
Meniscus tears are diagnosed by first taking a history and then doing a good physical exam. Usually there is point tenderness over the meniscus. Specific physical exam tests can reproduce the catching of a meniscus flap tear. An MRI is usually obtained to confirm the diagnosis of a meniscus tear as well at determine the location of the tear and the tear pattern.
If the MRI shows a meniscus tear and if a patient’s symptoms warrant it, then arthroscopic meniscus surgery is indicated. Dr. Cunningham repairs meniscus tears whenever possible, but some tears are degenerative with there being no blood supply to the torn area. In these cases, unstable flaps of the meniscus, which are causing pain and catching, are removed arthroscopically while preserving all the normal sections of the meniscus.
Repairing a torn meniscus and thus preserving the meniscus will help prevent early arthritis in the knee. The load transmission, shock absorption, and functional mechanics of the meniscus are vital to a normal, healthy knee and to resuming your active lifestyle. Meniscus repair is a well established, successful treatment with a very low risk of complications. Preserving the knee joint structures, and preventing degenerative changes, like the onset of knee arthritis, are good reasons to choose arthroscopic meniscus repair. If a meniscus tear is not repaired soon after it tears, the tear worsens over time and the tissue becomes more complexly torn which may make it unrepairable. Given this, it is better to have the meniscus repaired soon after tearing it.